How to visit Japan on a budget

How to visit Japan on a budget

Japan is known for being an expensive tourist destination, but its image doesn’t hold up. With a bit of strategy, a visit can be very reasonable — even budget-friendly. For example, many of the country’s top attractions are free, and there are free festivals held throughout the year.

Some accommodations are more budget-friendly than others

Consider a business hotel

These budget (and honestly, quite functional) hotels offer the best prices for private en-suite rooms: double rooms can be found for as low as 8,000 yen (single rooms as low as 6,000 yen), although these are in Tokyo , Kyoto and Osaka will be a bit more expensive. Look for places that offer free breakfast buffets – they’re plentiful enough to keep you going for hours.

Book a tried-and-true hotel or hostel

Japan is full of great guesthouses and inns; not only are they generally clean and well-maintained, but friendly English-speaking staff are usually on hand to provide near-concierge-level service. A double or single room is equivalent to a business hotel (but often has shared facilities); a bed in a dorm costs about 3,000 yen ($25). Some places charge extra for renting towels, so you can bring your own for a few yen. Note that prices are usually slightly cheaper if you book directly rather than through a booking site.

Check into a capsule hotel for the ultimate Japanese experience

Capsule hotels offer small rooms with only one bed, making them an affordable place to stay overnight. A capsule bed costs slightly more than a dorm bed in a dormitory (4,000 yen per night), but you get more privacy. You might not want to live in a capsule every night, but in cities where hotels are pricier, they’re great for saving money.

go camping

If you really want to visit Japan on the cheap, you can rely on its network of well-maintained campsites in rural or resort areas; prices range from 500 yen to 1000 yen per person or tent. Note that many sites are only open during the summer months.

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if you plan a lot

Take a closer look at transportation across Japan the cheap way

The Japan Rail Pass is a great travel deal

Like the famous Eurail Pass, this is one of the best travel deals in the world and the best way to see Japan on a budget.It allows unlimited travel on Japan’s glorious national rail system, including lightning fast Shinkansen (Bullet train). There are also cheaper region-specific rail passes, so double-check your itinerary before deciding. Buy your pass online in your country or from a travel agency such as JTB.

Ride local trains at lower prices with Seishun 18 Ticket

Another deal, but with very specific conditions: For just 12,050 yen ($105) you can get five one-day tickets for any regular Japan Rail train (which means not Shinkansen or any high-speed express train) for a limited period of several weeks; Seishun 18 tickets are only available at certain times of the year – during school holidays (the ticket is designed for students, but has no age limit) – and only Purchase from JR ticket windows in Japan. If the time is right and you like slow travel, this is a unique and super cheap way to get around Japan.

Overnight at hotel and transfer to overnight bus

Long-distance buses, such as those run by Willer Express, are the cheapest way to travel, and there are night buses on longer routes that can save you a night’s worth of accommodation. There are also bus passes, which can make it a cheaper way to get around.

If you’re skipping cities, consider renting a car

Highway tolls and gasoline are expensive in Japan; however, if you are traveling as a group or family, or are planning an itinerary that will take you away from major rail hubs, renting a car may be economical.

View Discounted Airfare

There are several budget airlines in Japan such as Peach, Jetstar and Air Do that offer bus-like pricing on certain routes – make sure to consider the time and cost to and from the airport.

A young man walks down a city street with a mobile phone.There are many Japanese signs on the building behind him
From attending local events to creating your own walking tour, there are many free things to do in Japan © JohnnyGreig / Getty Images

Many attractions and activities are completely free

Free tour of Japan’s fascinating photogenic shrines and temples

The vast majority of Shinto shrines in Japan are accessible at no cost. Likewise, many temple grounds are free to visit (usually, you only pay to enter the hall or walled garden).

Take part in a traditional festival with the locals

Throughout the year, festivals take place at shrines and temples, as well as on city streets. They’re free, a great way to bring traditional culture to life, and cheap food vendors are popular.

Stretch your legs and your budget with walks and hikes

Hiking or trekking is free and can be the most rewarding part of your trip: exploring emerging urban neighborhoods, strolling old pilgrimage trails or country trails, or climbing a mountain in one of Japan’s national parks.

Take advantage of free city parks

City parks are usually free to enter (some gardens are, too) and are popular with locals on weekends; pack a picnic and settle down to watch the crowds for an afternoon.

Map your own architectural journey

Cities in Japan, especially Tokyo, have some fantastic buildings designed by many of the biggest names in Japanese architecture. This may take some planning – ask the tourist information centre or your accommodation for advice.

Buy cheaper items at the local market

Many seaside towns have fish markets, some rural areas have morning markets, and some cities still have old-fashioned open-air markets—a great way to connect with local culture, and often a source of cheap, fresh food.

Aerial shot of two friends eating bowls of noodles in restaurant
Noodles have always been a good budget option in Japan, starting at $3 per bowl

Find affordable food and cheaper places to eat

eat in canteen: Japan’s answer to greasy spoons

You can have a hearty meal for less than 1,000 yen ($8.50) at these full-scale Japanese restaurants. As with all restaurants in Japan, tea and water are free and no tipping is required.

convenient A budget alternative to dining out

These “box lunches”, which include various dishes, can be purchased at supermarkets for less than 1,000 yen. Department store cafeterias sell a little more gourmet food; visit before closing to buy at reduced prices.

Learn why noodles are so popular in Japan

You can get a steaming bowl of delicious ramen for just 600 yen ($5). Ligui (Standing Food Counter) Selling soba (buckwheat noodles) and udon (thick white wheat noodles) at lower prices – as low as ¥350 per bowl.

Eat a big meal at lunch time

If you want to splurge, do it at lunch, as many high-end restaurants offer smaller dishes that are significantly less expensive than dinner dishes.

Get everything you need and more at the convenience store

Best friend to all budget travelers, the convenience store has sandwiches, rice balls, hot dishes and beers, all of which you can combine into a very affordable (if not totally healthy) meal. Accommodations always have kettles, so cup noodles are always an option.

Guide to Daily Expenses in Japan

Capsule hotel room: 4000 yen ($35)
Basic room for two: 8000 yen ($70)
Self-catering apartment: (including Airbnb) 6,000 yen ($52)
Public transport tickets: 170 yen ($1.50)
coffee: 400 yen ($3.50)
sandwich: 300 yen ($2.60)
Dinner for two: 5000 yen ($43)
Beer/pint at the bar: 800 yen ($7)
Karaoke time for two people: 2000 yen ($17)

You might also like:
10 best places to visit in Japan
22 unmissable experiences in Japan
Things to know before going to Tokyo

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